Posted on: April 28, 2016 at 3:44 pm
Last updated: September 14, 2017 at 5:14 pm

According to a recent study, taking certain over the counter drugs has been associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine conducted a study to examine the physical changes that occur in the brain that they believe lead to conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The study consisted of a group of 451 participants that had an average age of 73. In order to examine the changes that occur in the brain, researchers had the participants complete a variety of tasks testing cognitive function and memory. They also conducted PET scans to measure brain metabolism and MRI scans to view the structure of the brain.


According to the cognitive tests, people taking anticholinergic drugs had worse short-term memory, executive function, verbal reasoning and problem solving skills. Anticholinergic drugs include a variety of common over the counter drugs including Benadryl and Demerol.

The PET and MRI scans also showed that participants taking anticholinergic drugs had a lower brain metabolism and a smaller brain size in general.

According to Shannon Risacher, this research provides valuable information on the dangerous side effects of certain over the counter drugs.

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“These findings provide us with a much better understanding of how this class of drugs may act upon the brain in ways that might raise the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia,” Risacher said.

The study revealed further connections between the use of anticholinergic drugs and the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.


Researchers found that anticholinergic drug users had lower levels of glucose metabolism in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that is associated with memory. It is also a part of the brain that is usually affected early on during Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants using anticholinergic drugs also had larger ventricles in the brain, a physical characteristic that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

“These findings might give us clues to the biological basis for the cognitive problems associated with anticholinergic drugs, but additional studies are needed if we are to truly understand the mechanisms involved,” Risacher said.

To learn more about the risks and side effects associated with over the counter drugs, click here.



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